Asia-Pacific Newsletter - July 2012
- HR in China: Room to Grow
- Travel-Friendlier Skies: A Conversation with PATA CEO Martin Craigs
- PMI Expands in Singapore
- 3 Considerations for Asia Meetings
- Should Your Secretariat Stay in One Place? The Case of HUGO
These stories just scratch the surface of the work that association leaders are doing globally. To learn more about ASAE and the resources it provides for association leaders around the world, please visit www.asaecenter.org/internationalwelcome.
HR in China: Room to Grow
Given the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy, it is no wonder the country’s HR industry is searching for resources to keep up with corporate growth.
To address the expansion, the Human Resource Association for Chinese & Foreign Enterprises (HRA) was established in 1998. It is the oldest leading professional body in the HR field in China, and today it has more than 800 corporate members.
I asked Teng Xiao, secretary general of HRA, about the biggest issues confronting China’s HR sector. The main ones, she says, are developing skills and motivating employees in order to retain them.
Xiao says state-owned enterprises that are increasingly focusing on international business are challenged to train internal staff with skills to match the company's international ambitions. To retain staff, these companies need to develop employees that can manage internationally, provide those employees with cross-cultural training, and offer competitive compensation.
For private enterprises and multinational corporations, the problem is slightly different, she says. These firms are searching for employees who have a business mindset, and they are also responding to labor regulations passed by the Chinese government in 2008 that have been cumbersome for firms to implement.
In response, HRA is focused on membership expansion. HRA is registered in Beijing, where the vast majority of its members are located. Opportunities to grow are readily available in cities such as Chengdu, Xian, and Nanjing, and Xiao intends to work with organizations in these cities, eventually positioning staff there. “The scene is very competitive in the other cities,” she says. “There are many other local HR associations in these cities. However, they are new and young and are quite different to HRA. Some are related to the government and some are related to specific companies/sectors. Thus opportunities for HRA are aplenty.”
Though expansion is important for HRA, it’s currently not a top priority. HRA is working to strengthen its internal organization to provide more extensive services. That work, she says, will attract new members and open up new revenue-generation models. For the next three to four years, HRA’s nine-person staff will focus on deepening service levels, categorizing programs, offering e-learning modules for members, increasing collaboration with regional and international associations such as the Asia Pacific Federation of Human Resource Management, and expanding internal training. Most staff do not have an HR background, but HRA plans to employ qualified HR staff with relevant training and education who can more specifically cater to members' needs.
Travel-Friendlier Skies: A Conversation with PATA CEO Martin Craigs
I intended to talk to Martin Craigs, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, about leadership change, because it was only last October that he took the helm of the organization. Instead, we talked about advocacy and how important it is for large associations to be vocal about issues that are heavily affecting the industries of their members.
Since it was founded in 1951, PATA has been the leading voice and authority on travel and tourism in the Asia Pacific region. The association supports more than 80 government, state, and city tourism bodies; nearly 50 international airlines, airports, and cruise lines; and hundreds of travel industry companies across the region and beyond.
Asia Pacific travel is rapidly expanding. Last year the travel industry grew four percent worldwide, and 6 percent in the Asia Pacific region. Europe’s economic crisis has weakened demand from the continent, yet that decline is more than compensated for by travel within Asia.
Craigs says his short-term priority is to help move the industry into what he calls a “next generation mode” that embraces new technology. PATA has to show people why it is worth investing not only money but also time in the organization, he says, and he’s spent the first seven months of his tenure focusing on rebuilding the value proposition.
”PATA has done a lot of internal examination and introspection, and I've been given a seaworthy ship that has been repaired by the interim CEO,” Craigs says. “My mission now is to get the ship out on the high sea, fly the flag again and show that we're doing things that our members have asked us for.”
What he's primarily referring to is for PATA to lead on advocacy issues that affect the entire travel supply chain. His primary concern is European travel taxes. “Media, traveling public, and governments still don't fully understand this issue,” Craigs says. “Airlines are vital to world economic stability and growth, yet margins are razor-thin in this crucial industry.”
For instance, this year the British government alone will collect more from its Air Passenger Duty, which is built into every ticket, than the entire projected profits of 233 International Air Transport Association (IATA) airlines. “All of these airlines are sweating buckets to move people and cargo around the world,” says Craigs. “Nonetheless, governments in Europe are taxing and harassing this business sector as if it had some negative effect on its society. Instead, it's having a negative effect on some of the least capable economies.”
To advocate for these issues, PATA is organizing lobbying groups and events. It’s also joined forces with the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and IATA to conduct an independent assessment on the impact of these taxes. Because airlines are struggling to stay profitable while enabling other industries, the airline industry needs strong external advocacy, Craigs says.
He adds that Asia is united on this front but points out a paradoxical situation: government officials and private industry leaders support PATA’s cause, but none want to be individually quoted about it, which is why PATA has to do the talking. The stakes are high: according to a report conducted by WTTC and Oxford Economics, 6.5 million fewer jobs will be created in the region by 2030 if European taxes suppress air travel demand by one percent annually.
PMI Expands in Singapore
Singapore is a small country, yet in many fields it punches way above its weight. A clear example of that is the Project Management Institute Singapore Chapter (SPMI).
SPMI started in 1999 with a very small community; when chapter president Umesh Ursekar joined as a board member in 2001, there were approximately 180 members. Since then, the chapter has grown to approximately 1,800 members. Singapore also has 4,250 PMI members and 7,402 PMP credential holders, ranking 11th globally in terms of PMI members and 10th in terms of PMP holders.
SPMI’s success is a function of its leadership matched to Singapore’s status as a global hub for project management, and although SPMI’s focus is regional, it has also been tapping into the global experiences, best practices, ideas, and principles. “We create avenues where professional development happens for members and nonmembers alike,” says Ursekar. “We conduct focus group discussions, networking opportunities, and build relationships with the corporate world to create an understanding of why project management is critical and effective for commercial or social projects.”
One of the chapter’s primary goals is to help members of the local PMI community elevate their skills and knowledge through certification. It conducts boot camps, coaching sessions, regional symposia, mentorship programs, and other opportunities for members to receive expert industry advice. It also conducts outreach programs to polytechnic schools and colleges to promote the project management profession. Its Regional Symposium, held October 4-5 at Marina Bay Sands, is among the more sought-after events focused on project management, not only within Singapore, but within the entire Asia Pacific region.
Singapore is becoming a mature market; most of the chapter’s positions in its most recent election were contested. Even volunteerism has improved in a place that has no volunteer culture; Ursekar says that in the last few years, “we have created an environment where individuals come forward and want to contribute, for it clearly benefits them in terms of leadership skills which are consequently improving their personal skills.”
SPMI is also working very closely with regional neighbors, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia, who are experiencing similar membership growth rates. According to Ursekar, SPMI’s continued growth will greatly depend on the chapter leadership and local board, which will need to continuously create new member value. In order to meet the demands, each chapter has to understand the expectation of the project management community and professionals. If they know how to position and anticipate demand with the right leadership, he says, then the chapters will continue to grow.
3 Considerations for Asia Meetings
Is the world really so different on the other side of it?
Bringing events, tradeshows, and meetings out of familiar locations presents great opportunities as well as great learning experiences. We’ve deliberately avoided saying “challenges.” Too much has been made of the so-called challenges of stepping out of our respective comfort zones: language, business practices, taxes, and, of course, “cultural differences.” It’s sad that culture is often the dumping bin for excuses when things do not go as planned. The real reason a meeting doesn’t work out is because organizers didn’t sufficiently plan for attendees. It’s never about culture, unless we are all an insensitive and narrow bunch.
In Asia, the growth of the middle class has expanded opportunities for associations in tradeshows, meetings, and conferences. So, the considerations to make when holding an event in Asia has less to do with those “cultural differences” and more with three major categories: geopolitics, business, and finance.
Geopolitical considerations include a careful consideration on the political stability of the region where you’re planning a meeting. A simple risk assessment should yield a snapshot of the safety and security of the region, immigration and visa requirements, and laws unique to the country you are looking at. At the risk of generalizing, immigration and visa requirements are often reciprocal in nature; as economic and trade walls break down, barriers to everyday trade like visas will gradually dissipate. For example, Singapore only requires visas from 33 countries, and these are often due to reciprocal considerations.
Selecting a country with minimal visa requirements from other countries makes it easier for your delegates and tradeshow visitors and exhibitors, and it also eliminates potential headaches. However, a visa requirement is a matter of paperwork, not the end of the world; it simply means that planners need to make visa requirements one of their main considerations.
It is important for associations to have some understanding of local regulations such as labor laws and event-control laws. Though labor laws in Asia are not as advanced as those in North America, it helps to consult industry resources or contacts on best practices to minimize operation costs. Relatively affordable labor in many parts of Asia can lead to cost-saving opportunities on a project basis.
Some countries in Asia may also have a dual pricing system through which local clients get a better local rate than overseas clients. This is common practice in many Chinese venues. Leveraging industry networks such as local partners, local associations, or regional offices helps secure better pricing and rental rates. Establishing these local partnerships also lowers potential intellectual property risks for your next show, as creditable local partners serve to insulate you (in some form) against cheap local duplication efforts.
Business considerations include a study of the ability of the country to host your group. Countries like Hong Kong and Singapore have very advanced travel and hospitality infrastructure and ample hotel inventory, which may not be the case in other Asian cities. Information can easily be found on the websites of cities’ convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs). Another consideration is the availability of suitable venues for the event. A well-chosen venue can enhance networking opportunities and overall experience for the attendees.
The easy availability of support services like stand construction, audiovisual equipment, and registration systems will reduce the need for associations to import these services, thereby reducing operating costs.
When planners work with local partners such as local associations, local professional conference organizers, and professional event organizers, roles and responsibilities need to be clearly spelled out. One often overlooked local resource is the chamber of commerce. Chambers provide an immediate link into the local business community and trade associations, which can be invaluable for contacts, networks, and advice.
Financial considerations include local taxation, such as value added tax or special excise taxes. CVBs can provide you with updated information. Asian venues, such as those in Singapore, tend to operate on a rental basis. It’s always advisable to create a comparison chart between a day delegate rate (DDR) charge (delegates x DDR x total days x taxes) and a rental charge + food and beverage charge. In some instances, using a non-DDR rate may provide the cheaper option with no minimum room-night guarantee.
Hosting an event in Asia may seem to be a huge leap. However, there’s nothing to be unduly worried about, especially when you apply basic business principles at all times. It’s not about the way we shake hands anymore. It’s about business, safety, security, ingress and egress from a country, unique local laws, revenue models, and local networks. When planned correctly and properly, the world on the other side isn’t that much different from the world that we’re used to.
— Weemin Ong and Jason Ng
Weemin Ong, CMP, is chief commercial officer at Suntec Singapore. Jason Ng is executive director of MP International in Singapore. Emails: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Should Your Secretariat Stay in One Place? The Case of HUGO
The Human Genome Organization (HUGO), founded in 1988, is the international organization of scientists involved in human genetics. Like many other international associations, it is challenged by the concept of impermanent secretariats. In theory, as the president rotates to a new country, so can the secretariat. But does that make for a stable organization?
HUGO’s first office was in Geneva, but it moved to Singapore in 2007 after a brief station in London, where its then-president was also situated. There were several reasons why the secretariat moved to Singapore. For one, the current president, Edison T. Liu, is based there, and additionally, HUGO wanted to build prominence in the Asia Pacific region. It didn't hurt that A*STAR (the Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research) offered support. In 2007 A*STAR had just started to build its presence in human genomics, and it provided start-up funding, IT support, and an office in its Biopolis campus.
HUGO has more than 1,600 members from 84 countries, with 23 council members from 10 countries. Among its projects is the Archon Genomics X Prize, a competition to sequence 100 whole human genomes in 30 days under USD 10,000; the winner will receive the grand prize of USD 10 million.
Thus HUGO is a well-established association with several prominent programs and events, but how does its secretariat manage the association when the president can be, and soon will be, based in a different country?
Director of operations Shirlena Soh says that even when the secretariat was based in London, the president was not based in the UK. Modern IT infrastructure has helped the association function well despite the occasional separation between the “head” and the “body.”
Liu will step down in 2013, and Stylianos E. Antonarakis, who is based in Geneva, will take the helm of the association. What will that mean for HUGO’s Singapore presence?
Soh says that discussions on that front are still ongoing. “The office in Singapore is already set up and functioning, and thus the council members are very much into keeping it in the Lion City,” she says. “Besides, moving the whole secretariat is a cumbersome process. You have to deal with different regulations, re-register the organization, new staff, etc.”
One idea being evaluated is having a part- or full-time person based in Geneva who will work closely with the president, while headquarters remains in Singapore. That would provide continuity for the organization yet also a person close to the president to enhance efficiency and functionality. A final decision will be made by the middle of next year.